by Cindy Gresser, Executive Director, The Smoki Museum

I was sitting at my desk one day playing with a length of string tied in a loop. I was trying to remember the games that I learned as a child, with a loop of yarn from my mom’s knitting. “Cat’s Cradle” and “Tea Cup and Saucer” were the only two that I could remember. Then, in walked a good friend from Second Mesa, Hopi. After some greetings and catching up, he asked what I was doing.

At the time, we were trying to develop a new activity for the children’s hands-on area of the museum. The idea of string games had been presented by a volunteer, and we all agreed that this would be a good and interesting activity for the kids to learn. But what were the Native stories that went along with these games? And we would all have to “re-learn” games from our own childhood.

As I formed what I learned as “Tea Cup and Saucer” for my Hopi friend, he exclaimed, “Hey! You know Bow and Arrow!” In that moment, I realized that while all of us grew up in different areas and different cultures, thousands of miles apart, we shared a common experience. What ensued were several hours of stories, string games, memories and laughter – and more stories from both of us.

He explained that the dozens of figures that he knew and had learned as a child were shown to him mostly in the winter time. As a Hopi, winter is considered to be the most dangerous time of year. It is when you should stay inside and listen to and learn the stories and traditions of your culture from your elders. And as we talked, I realized that, for me, it really wasn’t much different.

In the summer, we played and went swimming; fall was all about going back to school, pumpkins, cider and colored leaves; and spring was about cleaning, planting and preparations for the upcoming year. But winter was about Christmas and staying inside – warm and comfy – and listening to all the old stories from family. And we played games – not just string games, but board games, card games and, of course, my mom tried to teach me to knit and crochet. It was indoor time.

As I look back and listen to my Native friends, in the daily cycles of life, at least in our generation before computers and cellphones, our life activities were similar, yet so very different. But the time for sharing stories remains consistent – when the nights are cold and it’s time to stay indoors and enjoy the comforts of home.

A simple loop of string and the stories that came with it started a new tradition at The Smoki Museum. Everyone loves a good story, but there is a right time to offer them. And for Native people that time is winter. But in the everyday society of white culture, there is Thanksgiving, then Christmas and the fury of activities that surround those events. So how do we make an event like Storytellers at The Smoki work? Well, located in Arizona’s Christmas City, we decided that first it must occur after Winter Solstice to be at the appropriate time of year. Second, everyone is too darn busy before Christmas.

So, enjoy your Christmas Day. Recover the day after, and on December 27, when you wake up refreshed and looking for something to do, head on over to The Smoki Museum. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on that day, we’ll feature an amazing lineup of storytellers from many different cultures from across the U.S. They’ll share wonderful stories that have been passed down through generations of their cultures, including:

  • “How bat got his wings.”
  • “Why the moon is never the same size.”
  • “How mouse defeated hawk.”
  • “Spiderwoman’s Story.”
  • And many more …

We’ll light a fire in our Pueblo Building and serve warm cider and cookies throughout the day. Be sure to bring the kids. You may even start a new tradition in your own family.